The biggest competition that government organizations have been facing in the space market is from SpaceX and Blue Origin, both owned by tech geniuses and billionaires.
SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 as a means to design, develop and manufacture launch vehicles and rockets to not only change the way space technologies work, but also ultimately enable humans to be able to live on the surface of Mars one day.
It has been one of the world?s fastest growing launch service providers, with over 100 space missions including missions of the US government as well as commercial satellite launches.
Ever since 2006, SpaceX has been under a contract with NASA where it supplies and re-supplies cargo to the International Space Station. Falcon 9 created history in 2012 after delivering the Dragon capsule to the ISS, eventually making SpaceX the first ever commercial company to visit the ISS. Since then, it has had even more trips to the space for NASA. Moreover, it also announced that it would launch its first tourist space mission sometime in 2023, which would be another step towards enabling people with access to space.
SpaceX primarily has 4 main types of launch vehicles:
Falcon 9 is a medium-to-heavy lift launch vehicle and is also known as the first and only rocket that has flown and soft landed a first stage after sending payloads to the low Earth orbits. It is a two-stage launch vehicle which uses kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants for both its stages. While the first stage has 9 SpaceX Merlin engines, the second stage employs a single vacuum-rated Merlin engine.
The Falcon 9 can carry a payload of 22,800 kilograms to the low Earth orbits and 8,300 kilograms to the geostationary transfer orbit of the Earth. Falcon 9 is also the first orbital class rocket which is capable of a re-flight. Falcon 9 has a standard payment plan of $62 million and can carry 4,020 kilograms of payload to the Martian surface.
Falcon Heavy is a heavy lift launch vehicle is and also known as the most powerful operational rocket that exists in the world. It can lift more than twice the payload of the Delta IV Heavy, that too at almost one-third of the expected cost. It is a two-stage launch vehicle which uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants for both the stages. The first stage is made up of three cores which are connected at the base and the top of the centre core?s liquid oxygen tank.
The Falcon heavy can carry 63,800 kilograms to the low Earth orbits and 26,700 kilograms to the geostationary transfer orbit of the Earth. Additionally, the standard payment plan of Falcon Heavy is around $90 million.
Dragon is one of the first free-flying spacecrafts which is designed to deliver payloads as well as people to orbiting destinations. It is also the only spacecraft that can return significant amounts of cargo back to the Earth. This spacecraft can carry up to 7 passengers to and from the orbit of the Earth, and even beyond that.
The launch payload capacity of SpaceX Dragon is 6,000 kilograms while the return payload capacity is 3,000 kilograms.
BFR (Big Falcon Rocket)
SpaceX has been currently developing a next generation fully reusable rocket and launch vehicle, which would be the most powerful rocket ever built that could carry humans to Mars and even other planets in space. The Big Falcon Rocket is a two-in-one launch vehicle which includes both a spacecraft as well as a launch vehicle.
It is a super heavy lift launch vehicle and has a payload capacity of 100,000 kilograms. The design of the launch vehicle will be dependent on the Raptor rocket engine, which is a cryogenic methalox- fuelled engine that will be used for BFR. The rocket system will also have two stages.
Blue Origin, on the other hand, was founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos, with the objective of creating a future where humans could live as well as work in space. It has been developing technologies that focus on rocket-powered vertical take-off and landing vehicles to reach the suborbital and orbital space.
Blue Origin has been focusing on the moon only, as of now. It has been trying to use advanced technology as a means of perusing the interests of people commercially. The entertainment mission is one of the company?s main goals, which has also led to a lot of flights and launch vehicles being manufactured.
Blue Origin has the following types of launch vehicles:
The New Shepard is a reusable rocket system which has been designed for suborbital flights, and is also one of the only fully reusable space vehicles that can undertake vertical take-offs and landings. As of now, it has had 11 launches, all of which have been successful, in addition to 9 landings. New Shepard can easily carry payloads to the sub orbits of the Earth and is controlled by on-board computers, instead of ground control or human pilots.
It consists of two main parts, first, the pressurized crew capsule and the second, a rocket booster, which is also known as a propulsion module. It works on a single BE-3 engine and is propelled by liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen.
New Glenn is a single configuration based heavy-lift launch vehicle which can carry cargo and payloads not only to the Earth?s orbit, but also beyond it. It also has a reusable first stage which is built for 25 missions, along with a high-performance configuration.
The New Glenn consists of a fully reusable first stage made up of the powerful BE-4 engine, which uses liquid oxygen and liquified natural gas for propulsion. It is also capable of carrying payloads weighing 13,000 kilograms to the geostationary transfer orbit along with a payload of 45,000 kilograms to the low orbits of the Earth.
Currently being developed by Blue Origin, the Blue Moon rocket system is slated to take its first flight in 2024. It has the BE-7 engine to power the spacecraft. It also uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants and is said to be able to carry payloads and cargo of more than 3.6 metric tons on the surface of the moon.
HOW IS THE TECHNOLOGY OF THEIR NEW ROCKETS DIFFERENT?
Blue Origin?s New Glenn will be used to undertake heavy orbital launches, using a reusable booster to save additional costs. It is also a huge part of the company?s mission to not just create a new economy of space, but also enable humans to live there.
This is in direct contrast to the visions of SpaceX owner Elon Musk, who is currently working on its Big Falcon Rocket, to ultimately take humans to the surface of Mars.
Both the companies are using some of the latest and most advanced technologies to develop their spacecrafts. In addition to the seven-meter fairing of New Glenn, it also has a double usable volume as compared to any launch vehicle which has already been developed, which means that it has the capacity to carry a huge amount of payload to space. BFR, on the other hand, will be able to carry a much lesser amount of payload as compared to the New Glenn.
In case of engines, New Glenn uses the BE-4 engine, which is the world?s most powerful liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas engine, while the BFR uses a Raptor engine which is powered by methane and liquid oxygen.
SpaceX gets regular supply contracts from NASA for ISS. It also has the certification to conduct launches and space missions for the US military. In February 2019, SpaceX secured a contract from the US Air Force to launch its three national security missions, namely, the AFSPC-44, NROL-87, and NROL-85, all of which are slated to launch in 2021.
Blue Origin also collaborates with NASA for several developmental missions. Additionally, the company has also partnered with Boeing for the development of the first phase of the DARPA XS-1 Spaceplane Program. Moreover, in September 2018, the BE-4 engine used by the company was selected by the United Launch Alliance to provide first stage rocket engines for its next generation Vulcan rocket. The engine is said to be replacing the Russian built RD-180 engine that currently powers the Atlas 5.
It is therefore, quite a difficult challenge that government space organizations have been facing from the two private tech giants. While both SpaceX and Blue Origin both excel in technology, which government owned space companies do not seem to possess, both companies are also developing low cost and affordable vehicles and rocket systems for the different space missions and projects.
Both Blue Origin and SpaceX are developing some of the world?s best rocket systems that have the potential to change the course of life on earth. Such technologies could not only change how we look at space, but also quite possibly transform the human life.
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